She was arrested, and a bus boycott by the black citizens of Montgomery followed, led by a new minister in town, the 26-year-old Rev Martin Luther King. A year later the buses in Montgomery were desegregated, and the Civil Rights movement had discovered the power of non-violent protest.
Mrs Parks, who died on Monday after 50 years of being a living symbol, was a brave woman, whose moral courage inspired millions to fight for their own rights and those of others. She acted spontaneously that day in Montgomery, but was not adverse to allowing her arrest to launch a protest that was bound to lead to violence against its leaders. In fact, she had attended a workshop on race relations earlier in the year, and knew that the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People planned to launch a campaign in Montgomery when the right case offered itself.
Rosa Parks' dignity and purpose fuelled a movement that still inspires admiration and imitation half a century later. In 1989, the New Orleans band, the Neville Brothers, released a song, "Miss Rosa Parks", that captures the respect in which she is rightly held:
"December 1 1955,/ Our freedom movement came alive./ And because of Sister Rosa you know,/ We don't ride on the back of the bus no more./ Thank you Miss Rosa, you are the spark,/ You started our freedom movement./ Thank you Sister Rosa Parks."